Danville’s first football championship coach Ray Callahan passes away

Published 11:58 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017


Ray Callahan, the first coach to win an official high school state football championship at Danville, passed away this weekend at age 84.

He was head coach at Danville from 1959-62 and had a 28-14-1 record. His 1962 team went 9-2-1 and beat Corbin 13-6 at Stoll Field in Lexington to win the state championship. He was named state coach of the year.

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John Jackson, a starter on the 1962 title team, said Callahan’s daughter, Karen, let him know her father had passed.

“This was not unexpected, as his health had been in decline for some time,” Jackson, a doctor in Texas, said. “Coach was a good man, and to ‘our’ class/teams he was the perfect fit. He joins our other coaches Leon Kingsolver, Dickie Horn, Alex Stevens, Ken Snowden, and so many of our wonderful teachers at DHS — gone from this earth, but never forgotten.

He always respected the special talents of those who coached with him. (Former Danville basketball coach David) ‘Stick’ Cottrell talks about how he (Stick) knew virtually nothing about football, but Coach gave him the responsibilities and, I am presuming, the ‘tools’ (books, advice, confidence) that allowed him to do the job — same with Dickie Horn and Leon Kingsolver. 

“He always respected the contributions of those on our teams who did not have the natural abilities of many others, and kept us in a team mentality, a unit.”

A memorial service will be held Saturday to celebrate Callahan’s life. It will be held at 1 p.m. at Sandy Brooke Farm, 4883 Highway Nine O Three, Bracey, Va. All are welcome to attend the celebration. Condolences can be sent to Lee Callahan at 734 Poplar Creek Rd, Bracey, VA 23919.

Callahan was old school where toughness was a given. He was recruited to play at Kentucky by then coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1952 on a full scholarship. He became one of Bryant’s favorite players and often went fishing and on recruiting trips with the coach.

He was a three-year starter at offensive guard at UK for Bryant and Blanton Collier. He later coached at Kentucky from 1963-66 after winning the state title at Danville.

He was an offensive line at Cincinnati for two years under Homer Rice and became head coach in 1969 when Rice left and made it clear he wanted Callahan to take over. He had a four-year record of 20-23.

Callahan’s keen football mind took him to the NFL in 1973 with the Baltimore Colts as a linebacker coach under former teammate Howard Schnellenberger. Next he went to the World Football League with the Florida Blazers and coach Jack Pardee before coming back to the NFL with the Chicago Bears as offensive line coach. He was there the first three years that Hall of Fame running back Walter Peyton was with the team.

Pardee brought him to to the Washington Redskins as offensive line coach and then he went to the Houston Oilers as defensive line coach for two years. Callahan spent the next seven years in New York as defensive line coach for the New York Jets before retiring.

He’s a native of Loretto, Kentucky, in Marion County and played at Lebanon High School. He enjoyed a terrific life with his high school sweetheart, Essie ‘Lee’ Dorsey, before his death Saturday. He has a son, Kenneth Ray Callahan, Jr; 3 daughters, Karen Lee Callahan, Terri Lynn Caravousanos, Toni Kay Callahan; 14 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.

Jackson said Callahan was “genuinely enthusiastic” about the team’s potential at Danville and that rubbed off on the players.

He was an effective teacher. Having played in the backfield (in high school at Lebanon) and the line (at UK), he showed us ‘how’ to play,” Jackson said. “He was also a man of his word. I never recall any time in which he was any less.

He had class. He conducted himself as a gentleman, and as a tiger. He was able to hold his emotions when most others would have (at the time in coaching history) lost it. One time, I’m thinking of a particular incident during practice, this allowed me not to get what I deserved! But, I did learn, eventually, from his example.”

When Callahan returned to Danville for the 50-year reunion of the 1962 championship and his induction into the Danville Athletics Hall of Fame, most of his players came back, too.

“He truly cared about the players and students at the high school. When he came back to Danville for a ’62 team reunion, he knew every member of our team by name, and by story,” Jackson said. “There was a huge enlargement of our team picture and he named every one of us as he stood next to the picture. Many non-players were there that night, and I don’t recall him needing any hints at who everyone was. He remembered. He cared.

“His physical problems required him to attend in a wheelchair, his family and many of us worried that he may not be able (or willing, given his diminished condition) to make the trip. He made the trip — thank goodness for his daughter Karen and others in the family — and the joy that he radiated at the Fridaynight gathering at the Millennium Park gathering — including players and students and friends from Lebanon and Danville — as well as at the DHS football game and the ceremony at the high school the next morning, well it was really heart rending. I’m told he cherished that time.”